THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AFP) — Firebrand Dutch politician Geert Wilders returns to court Thursday to appeal his 2016 conviction for discrimination, unrepentant in the personal battle he is waging against Islam.
The far-right MP has seen the fortunes of his Freedom Party (PPV) soar in both general and local elections in recent years and now heads the biggest opposition party in the Dutch parliament.
His case will be back in a high-security court near Schiphol airport as Wilders appeals the December 2016 ruling which found him guilty of discrimination against Moroccans during a 2014 election rally.
The populist MP was however acquitted of hate speech and the judges decided not to impose any sentence or fine.
Prosecutors are also appealing and judges have allocated 11 days for the hearing. The verdict is due to be handed down on July 6.
Wilders told the popular De Telegraaf tabloid this week that he was not worried about the outcome of his appeal, saying: “I’ve gone through it all before.”
He said his lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops would address the court for him.
At the 2014 rally Wilders asked supporters whether they wanted “fewer or more Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands”.
When the crowd shouted back “Fewer! Fewer!” a smiling Wilders answered: “We’re going to organise that.”
After a three-week trial, the three judges ruled that due to “the inflammatory nature of the way in which the statements were made, others were encouraged to discriminate against people of Moroccan origin.”
But they added there was “insufficient evidence” to find that his words amounted to incitement to hatred.
Wilders largely snubbed the trial, and his lawyer refused to tell AFP this week if the politician would attend the appeal opening on Thursday.
But after the December verdict was handed down, Wilders vowed he would never stay silent, and has remained true to his word.
He put forward a fiery platform for the 2017 general elections, vowing to close mosques, ban sales of the Koran and halt the immigration of Muslim refugees to the country.
And he courted further controversy ahead of this year’s local polls in March, by tweeting a message saying in Dutch and English “Islam is deadly” in big red letters, apparently dripping in blood.
‘Bill to outlaw Islam’
The message was loudly condemned by other parties, but many voters were not put off, with the PVV gaining seats in 20 local councils, more than the party has ever held.
Despite the looming court case, Wilders has kept up a steady stream of attacks on Islam as a religion whose “imams preach hatred”.
Last month he said his PVV was working on a bill to go before the Dutch parliament to pass “legislation to outlaw as much Islam as possible”.
The appeal judges have demanded the prosecution provide detailed information about how the 6,400 complaints received about Wilders’ 2014 speech were handled.
But they rejected a defence request for other witnesses to be called, which reportedly included Prime Minister Mark Rutte.